Well Now EA, I Think I Have Discovered Your Problem
I know that over the years, I’ve spent entirely too much time managing my imaginary local government playing the ultra-successful SimCity franchise. It’s just a lot of fun to see how a city works, to plan it out, grow it, deal with its headaches and put your civil management skills where your mouth is. After all, who among us hasn’t said “Well I could run this place better than those jackasses in City Hall” right?
This week the latest iteration of the venerable grandaddy of the Sims family hit stores, but unlike the other games in the series, these days developer Maxis is owned by monolithically stupid gaming giant Electronic Arts, which made the fateful decision to have the cities you build exist on their servers in the cloud, not saved locally on your machine, and require a persistently active internet connection to play even in single-player mode. Needless to say, having several hundred thousand people trying to get into an online gaming community at the same time at launch becomes an exercise in total, abject futility.
Ahh, but it gets far worse for EA. You know you have blown your flagship game launch when the fogeys at the NY Times are calling you out.
Hours after the introduction, the company indicated that the problems were affecting “a small percentage of users.” Yet as the situation worsened, the company began to take down servers for maintenance, promising improvements by the end of the week. On Thursday the company turned off “noncritical gameplay features” to ease server load.
Fans fumed. A single, cheerful post on Electronic Arts’s official SimCity Facebook page on Tuesday was greeted by midweek with more than 3,000 mostly irate comments.
“I paid 120 dollars for two copies of the game and cant play either of them,” one commenter wrote before raising his volume to all caps: “DONT SELL A GAME THAT YOU CANNOT HANDLE WHEN WE PLAY!”
A playful poll on that page from a few days before the game’s release asked players to decide how best to supply power to one of the game’s cities — buy coal, harness the wind or import energy from a neighbor. One commenter’s response after the server problems: “the power to allow people to actually play the game.”
Having plopped down $60 for this, and having so far been able to get about one afternoon’s worth of game time in after four days, I have to say that while I respect EA’s digital intellectual property rights, requiring the internet connection and not allowing single-player mode locally is just cruelly ironic: it represents deliberately poor large-scale economic planning choices in a game of deliberate and large-scale economic planning choices.
EA, when your anti-piracy plan basically completely prevents your players from enjoying the game at all, you’re not going to have to worry too much longer about piracy when nobody’s buying your products anymore. I can tell you that SimCity is pretty much the last EA product I’m ever purchasing, Unlike Blizzard Entertainment, who last year ran into the same problem with Diablo III and fixed their server issues within 24 hours, EA is going on Day 4 with no fix in sight. EA swore it wouldn’t make the same mistake Blizzard did. They were right, they made a much, much worse clusterfuck of the deal.
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